Overlay Somebody Else: My Battle With Columbia County Over Property Rights

Friday, May 25, 2012
Evans, GA
By Al Gray

New Year’s Day in the year 2000 did not find this writer worried about the world’s computer systems crashing because of the Y2K or much of anything else. Two new clients and two projects in Missouri – a state-of-the-art hot dog plant and a deli meat production facility beckoned. It was a very lucrative contract that took me away from the Augusta area, as nearly all of them have. A most successful bowhunting season had just been concluded. The parents were still able to take care of themselves. 1999 had been good, but 2000 would be even better. It did not start that way, January 1 pleasantries not withstanding.

Sometime in February, after trudging through 15 inches of snow in St. Joe, MO,  I returned to my motel room just in time to catch a call from my parents. It seems that they had gotten an official notice about an ‘overlay’ zoning ordinance to cover something called the Evans Town Center Overlay District (ETCOD). It concerned them that the county was looking to pass some sort of control over their commercially zoned property on Washington Road. We were not totally surprised, having attended one of the planning meetings for the town center at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

Actually seeing the map of ETCOD was an eye-opener. It was a gerrymandered map that looked like a headless woman in a dress stumbling like a zombie. Then there was the matter of the text of the proposed ordinance. It banned any store over 30,000 square feet, imposed expensive architectural upgrades, and made plans to completely rework the zoning map via overlay zoning to impose government land use planning instead of free market economics. It was aimed straight at our family, who had decades long plans for a major shopping center to the west of Ronald Reagan Drive. Worse, it would have ruined decades of planning along with previous county officials which included gifted water and sewer easements and providing for a road into a subdivision.

The night of the first Planning Commission meeting, the elite of the Augusta and Columbia County development sector was in attendance. Your scribe had never made a public speech before. Knees shaking from fear and voice quavering, my speech might have gotten off to a disastrous start, but the first order of business was to loosen things up by poking fun at the gerrymandered map. The room exploded with laughter. A key point was made that the map was discriminatory, lacking uniformity of application. The county attorney would later agree, forcing new notices to be sent to everyone in a 3500 acre circle. Up behind the lectern, a transformation took place. The meek accountants knees were still knocking, but the cause had turned from fear to RAGE!

Things have not been the same since.

When the county was forced to make ETCOD a uniform circle, the action resulted in our family gaining scores of new allies against ETCOD. Even one of the chief proponents realized our position because her family’s land was now in the overlay zone! She exclaimed in a meeting. “We don’t want those rules on OUR PROPERTY!” Neither did a lot of folks. When the planning commission decided to ram through ETCOD, two of the commissioners stayed home in fear. The 3 left decided to ram the vote for the ordinance through. The entire room, it seemed, leaped to their feet and shouted “NO!!!!!!” It was the closest thing to a riot that Columbia County has seen in a public meeting in modern times. The county commission appointed a citizen’s committee headed by contractor Ron Cross to work out a compromise. The Evans Town Center Ordinance was birthed eventually, but the baby was a lot trimmer and caused less labor pain.

There were other battles to come. They are best left to another day.

The salvation of our family came in the form of gifts from our founding fathers. The 5th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution provide each of us, as citizens with guarantees of Equal Protection Under the Law and that we cannot be deprived of property without Due Process of Law. More recently Columbia County implemented Corridor Overlays, Lincoln County did the same, and last year Augusta attempted to enact a flawed Laney Walker Bethlehem Overlay District. In each instance it was a privilege to help fellow citizens being assailed with threats to their rights from overlay zoning.

Pertinent to today’s events, in which the diabolical Agenda 21 plan is infiltrating all levels of government, the Evans Town Center Plan developed by consultants Rosser- Lowe, was even then replete with references to “smart growth” and “Sustainable Development”. You have to remember that Columbia County is a solid Republican County, not a place one would suspect that a socialist agenda could take root in. We have to be constantly vigilant everywhere.

The Evans Town Center Plan was supposedly based upon town centers in Redmond, Washington; Reston, Virginia; and Smyrna, Georgia. A key component of largely defeating ETCOD was this analysis comparing those places with the Evans Town Center. (Article continues below the chart)

ETCOD BATTLE CHART

When one can dissect the planner’s plans and turn the evidence against them, he can win huge victories against the odds, for the truth overwhelms the planners and allies arrive in droves.

A County Commissioner and two Planning Commissioners said that the ETCOD was a “Done Deal”

Well, it came UNDONE.

Thanks founders, for the Constitution. Agenda 21? That’s just another undone deal of our making.***

AG

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